Pros and Cons
Many people with a fiancee in a foreign country struggle with the issue of immigration as there are a number of options available. Should they marry in a foreign country and pursue a marriage visa, or apply for a fiancee visa and marry in the U.S.?
Comparison of Costs
The fiancee visa, when coupled with the adjustment of status process that is required following the marriage, is somewhat costlier than the marriage visa process. For example, the total filing fee for the K-1 plus green card is $1410, in addition to embassy and medical exam fees. In contrast, the marriage visa fees total $865, exclusive only of medical exam fees. Legal fees are typically more for the K-1 / green card since there are two separate legal processes involved, compared with the marriage visa.
Time-frame until interview
Historically the marriage visa process is somewhat longer than the K-1 process, from the time of filing until the date of the interview. However this is often difficult to predict as it may depend on the current workload of the particular USCIS service center and NVC at the time of processing. In my experience the K-1 process can be completed within 4 to 8 months, whereas the marriage visa process normally takes from 6 to 10 months or longer.
Convenience and risk factors
It may be more convenient for many people to marry in the U.S., as this avoids having to comply with local foreign laws pertaining to marriage ceremonies and registration. However if a trip abroad is planned anyway, often times proceeding with the marriage in the foreign country can be advantageous, as the criteria for proving the validity of a marriage is less stringent than the criteria for proving a legitimate pre-marital relationship as required in the K-1 process. The marriage visa does require third party proof of the marriage in the form of affidavits of witnesses or proof of jointly held property / accounts, but typically these are simple to obtain. The fiancee visa process also places restrictions on those petitioners who have certain types of criminal records, or who have filed a previous K-1 petition within the last 2 years. The marriage visa does not consider these factors, other than those petitioners who may have a record of crimes against children.
The choice between the fiancee and marriage visa process is a personal one, and will depend on the importance to the individual of various factors such as costs, ability to travel, whether the person is ready to commit to marriage initially, and the time-frame they are interested in following. A competent immigration attorney will be able to make either chosen process go smoothly in the shortest amount of time possible.